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Women, empowerment and public services Current

equality , public services



This project asks what forms of power, choice and control women want in relation public services, whether current approaches to empowering public service users meet women’s expectations and how public services can help create a more equitable distribution of power between the genders.

Women make up the majority of public service users and experience services in ways that are distinct from men. Women have pregnancy and maternity needs; women live longer, often spending the final years of their lives alone; women are, on average, poorer than men – particularly so in later life; women are more likely to be the primary carers for children, frail older people, sick and disabled people; women are far more likely to be lone parents; and women are more likely to be the victims of domestic and sexual violence.

At the same time debates about enhancing choice and empowerment in relation to public services are rarely framed in gender terms. Too often debates about ‘choice and competition’, ‘co-production’ and ‘empowerment’ take place without any regard for differences between what men and women want, nor do they ask us to see public services as a means of creating more equitable gender relations.

This gender gap both at the level of research and debate is particularly problematic now that we are looking at a period of sustained austerity, lasting well into the next parliament. Many services that cater for needs that are overwhelmingly particular to women, such as domestic violence, sexual violence and trafficking services are being cut back. Childcare services that cater to both sexes but are particularly transformative for women are under pressure.

The government’s Open Public Services white paper makes clear that it wants to see more power, choice and control in relation to services handed down to the individual. But what forms of empowerment do service users actually want and are there differences between women and men? Moreover, how could services be better designed so to help create a more equitable distribution of power between the genders?

This project is in partnership with Which?